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  • Writer's pictureKelsey Anderson

Unconditional Positive Regard: For the Mistreated and the Mistreaters

Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR) is as it sounds. A theory created by Carl Rogers from his Existential-Humanistic background, UPR is a psychotherapeutic term that emphasizes unconditional acceptance of the self, others, the world and spirit. For a psychotherapist, UPR is a foundation to hold space for clients[1]. Is UPR a feasible concept in a society with social mores that are consistently changing, challenging and demanding? Considering the state of society and the disconnect people feel from one another based on race, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, etc., how can people have positive regard towards someone for whom they hold deep animosity ? How can we ask people to see others with unconditional acceptance when every individual has universal morality and their own perceptions of right and wrong? I propose the answers lie within the fundamentals of existentialism and African-centered spirituality.

In Existential theory, there are concepts of the self (eigenwelt), the self in relation to others (mitwelt), the self in relation to the world at large (umwelt), and the self in relation to spirit (uberwelt) [2]. In a humanistic perspective, a feeling of discord in our relationships (even the one with ourselves) causes feelings of anxiety and depression which essentially cause us to alienate from those around us. Alienation includes participating in alienating behaviors that validate our initial concerns and are self-defeating. If someone hurts you, imagine what their relationship is like with themselves and the alienation they’ve created within their own being.

Imagine the behaviors that are a manifestation of their own pain, multiplied by their internal dialogue coupled with the shame of their behavior. Shame is the absence of love and connection to a higher self[3]. The more a person feels shameful, the less openly they speak about their behaviors to themselves, and least likely to those whom they have hurt[4]. Shame is an ego killer. Feeling this disconnect with our soul is a painful emotional experience, which feels even worse when confronted by those we’ve hurt (even if it is not expressed). In reality, there are those who hurt others and do not feel shame; this is one of the most detrimental types of suffering[5].

Someone who has acted in alienating ways but refuses to acknowledge, feel or express the shame behind their actions, truly suffers. Disconnect from our emotions is not strength, but rather a sign of trauma. People who act from a place of trauma without addressing it will reenact it. They do not feel the social justice that the abused or oppressed demand as recompense for anger, rage or sadness. They will continue to alienate others and create sadness and resentment in existing & future relationships. Many times, this unresolved trauma will manifest in future generations; their offspring. Unaddressed pain and trauma masked by a shallow perspective is a suffering that extends beyond this earthly plane and carries spiritually, karmic energy. How can those who suffer at the whims of abuse utilize this knowledge?

Unconditional positive regard does not mean you must be friends with those who have hurt you. Though it is comparable to forgiveness, it is not synonymous. One of the first steps in using UPR is fully expressing and experiencing your pain. Unresolved pain manifests in defeating ways and interferes in our relationships with ourselves. UPR is a spiritual ideology and not an absolute means to an end. How a person internalizes and practices UPR is an individual concept and it must feel authentic. UPR requires you to account for the direction of your higher self.

When we consider the highest level of spirit, we understand that concepts of right and wrong, good and bad are not as concrete[6]. Moralistic judgments are a preoccupation with an earthly existence and do not represent the narratives of the most high. To acknowledge the highest light, understanding and love is to acknowledge a deep level of connection, compassion and love that may extend beyond earthly comprehension. Those who delve into the realm of the spirit have felt the euphoria of divine love and understood that everything which manifests in your life is connected to the source. The experiences that show up in our lives are a reflection of ourselves on some level or dimension, even if we do not concretely understand them[7]. To practice hate and animosity disrupts our relationship with ourselves, particularly our higher self. Our higher self simply cannot join us in the condemnation of another. As a result, our disconnection from our higher self can and will manifest into anxiety and depression.

I conclude with this question: if you find it painful to accept other’s actions unconditionally, the situation which occurred unconditionally[8]; that there is an inherent soul lesson for yourself based on these interactions, how will this pain manifest in your relationship with others? With new people who enter your life? You have every right to feel your feelings as they come up and to accept them as they are. You may even find that the more we accept others for who they are, were and will be, the deeper we find acceptance for ourselves. UPR is an intentionally consistent practice. There is more benefit in practicing it mindfully than sporadically.


Ivey, M. B., DAndrea, M., & Ivey, A. E. (2012). Theories of counseling and psychotherapy: A multicultural perspective (7th ed.). London: SAGE.

Some, M. P. (1999). The Healing Wisdom of Africa: Finding Life Purpose through Nature, Ritual, and Community. New York, NY: Putnam Books.

Rosenberg, M. B. (2015). Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life (Vol. 3). Encinitas, CA: Puddle Dancer Press.

Tipping, C. (2010). Radical Forgiveness. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.

[1] Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy

[2] Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy

[3] The Healing Wisdom of Africa

[4] The Healing Wisdom of Africa

[5] The Healing Wisdom of Africa

[6] Non-Violent Communication

[7] Radical Forgiveness

[8] Radical Forgiveness

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